London Lions are taking a serious look at playing in European competition next term.

The Lions of the Women’s British Basketball League, that is.

The last time a female side from the UK tested itself against the continent’s finest was a generation ago.

A cursory look down the roster of the recently-crowned Trophy winners shows that most of them were barely toddlers when Rhondda Rebels took part in FIBA competition in 2005.

But with the (men’s) Lions confirming that they plan to take a second stab at the Basketball Champions League come the autumn, their sister act are pondering a parallel push in the EuroCup, head coach Mark Clark confirmed.

“I would say it’s really possible,” he told MVP. “I would hope we can get some decisions over the line and make people feel comfortable with a decision.

“I don’t think that’s on-court. It’s more difficult for British clubs to make the step to do that stuff off-court: you know, staging games midweek, promoting games, compliance with all those FIBA regulations.

“But you know and I know that FIBA will be desperate for British teams to play in Europe. They want teams from all over Europe.

“Lions tried to do this year. Leicester have done it. So both those clubs are doing it. So why shouldn’t a women’s club try and do it?

“And with the Brexit rules, who knows what impact that’s going to have on the availability of some really talented British players.”

That the integration of Barking Abbey into the Lions should have coincided with the heavy investment into the capital club by Miami-based 777 Partners has created the perfect storm.

It has driven the (BA) Lions from worst to close-to-first in the WBBL, a boomtime that has been largely overshadowed amid the cash injection that has lured former NBA talents to the Copper Box to affirm a revolution in the making.

Yet there are shades of Clark’s early forays into basketball at Crystal Palace where men and women’s programmes sat side-by-side with lofty ambitions shared and collated.

“OK,” he underlines, “the financial numbers for each programme are going to be different, like they are everywhere in Europe before anyone jumps on that one. It’s just the way it is.

“But 777 want to invest in the women becoming a team that can play in Europe. When is the question, not if.

“And so that’s why we brought Kennedy (Leonard) in because she has the British status. And that’s why we brough Shanise (Beckford-Norton) back and Chantel (Charles) back and we’ve got plans to bring other British players back.

“If I’d known Azania Stewart was going to come out of retirement, that would really have been an interesting option. She’s 32 years young, I’d love to see her play back in London for the first time since she went to the States for high school.

“And then you build that on top of what we’ve already got at Barking.

“Lions have a desire to bring a European-style development programme where we’re feeding players through, everything’s good.

“Obviously, everyone will then say, well, the proof will be in what happens. But the 777 people, the way they want to commit to British basketball is great because their interest in the league is really, really positive.”

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All roads, he trusts, will lead across the Channel in the years ahead. A necessity, not an optional luxury.

“If you’re not going to aspire to play in Europe, why are you doing it? Are we supposed to be a professional league? We are supposed to be and we’re all striving for it.”

However few view 777 as some kind of benevolent charity, shipping dollars across the Atlantic as the kind of tax write-off that funded at least one club in its halcyon era of three decades ago.

A long-term game the Lions purchase may be – ditto a £7.3 million buy-in to the BBL that, sources confirm, is not yet over the line – but investors demand profits that translate into returns.

Last week’s EuroLeague Women final was won by UMMC Ekaterinberg, who are lavishly sponsored by an ultra-rich Russian conglomerate who can bestow extraordinary seven-figure contracts on the finest trinkets the WNBA can export.

The WBBL – a thousand levels below – barely scrapes by, financially. Throw a Euro adventure onto the budget, and can the sums truly add up?

Retorts Clark: “That’s a really good question, isn’t it? I think there’s no better time for women’s sport to try and make money because the profile of women’s sport is so high. The profile of particular players is really high. If we can get some commercial interest in … but you’ve got to have a product that people want to watch.

“And it’s not about us competing with netball. It is a different game to a different audience, that club-wise is only really ever going to be a club British game because of the geography of where the good clubs are.

“So we’ve got an opportunity to give women the chance to play in in top European competition in a top league.”

He can view both at close hand with his daughter, Ella, pulling double duty for Leicester Riders and the netball Superleague’s Loughborough franchise.

There is much, he suggests, that they could and should learn from each other, from schemes in Australia, for example, where they share resource and centres of excellence.

“I don’t like the way it’s seen as either or,” Clark underlines. “Ella has proved that you can do both successfully.

“But if I really get down to it, basketball is a bigger sport. Basketball is a bigger worldwide sport. And we’ve got to try and take our place on a bigger platform. And we’ve got a bigger platform to play on.

“Netball is a great sport. But after soccer, we are the second-biggest sport in the world and Britain deserves to have teams playing at the highest level.”

Photo: Ahmedphotos

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